Ethical reflections for an early career health researcher

Justine Dol-thumbnail

by Justine Dol

When the speaker of a workshop starts off by saying, “imposter syndrome happens to everyone, including the speaker,” you know it’s going to be a good talk. Gautham Krishnaraj, a PhD student from McMaster University, led a workshop called “Three Ethical Cases from an Early Career Global Health Professional” at the 5th Annual Global Health Students & Young Professionals (GHSYPs) Summit.

However, he quickly re-titled his talk to what he felt was more aptly named “Awkward moments with no right answers,” which definitely reflected the rest of the workshop. Split into four groups, participants had the opportunity to engage with other attendees to discuss what we would do when faced with a particular ethical challenge related to global health work.

Academic case study

Ethical-Workshop_Credit-Michael Lee-mediumThe first case study, provided from his personal experience, had an academic focus, asking us to reflect on an example of a university’s travel abroad program that was perhaps not providing community impact and whether it was truly a two-way reciprocal relationship for the community.

A common thread shared among most attendees was that many students had experienced both positive and negative experiences volunteering internationally – ones where they felt both themselves and the community benefited and ones where they wondered if anyone benefited at all.

Attendees said asking questions, engaging in pre-departure training and learning from individuals who come from the country where you will be visiting are all important ways SYPs can prepare for ethical engagement during international volunteering opportunities.

However, a challenge was identified in the power relationships between students and administrators at universities and the (in)ability to question established partnerships and international exchanges, particularly if students felt that changes were needed to enhance the experience for other students as well as the community. Clearly, lots of awkward moments with no right answers…

Taking a critical eye

In the remainder of the session, participants were able to discuss a field case study about what to do if you encountered an in-country colleague expressing sexist views when you’re a new intern as well as a case study on the role of innovation in humanitarian context when human lives are at stake. These small group discussions also brought out a lot of awkward moments with no right answers but really allowed participants to dive deep into the practical and not-so-practical responses to the challenges.

Overall, this workshop really allowed participants to think critically about their worldview and how taking a critical eye to global health and international opportunities provides a chance to make it better.

As SYPs who either have been or will be traveling internationally for work or school, it is important that we wrestle with these ethical and other dilemmas that emerge and talk about them with others. Without acknowledging that others are facing similar challenges, it can lead to isolation and uncertainty. However, by discussing the ethical challenges that arise among other SYPs, we can come up with creative solutions to ethical challenges and perhaps, as a group, can brainstorm some potential right answers. I know I will be reflecting on this workshop as I wrestle to come up with my ‘right answers’.

Justine Dol is a third year PhD in Health candidate at Dalhousie University. Her research focuses on providing postnatal education of mothers to provide essential newborn care in Tanzania and Canada. Justine has been involved with numerous international projects, both in health-related research and community development in Canada and abroad. She has volunteered and worked in sub-Saharan Africa on-and-off since 2008, most recently in Tanzania as a Queen Elizabeth Scholar in the summer of 2017. She is supported by a CIHR Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarship Doctoral Award to Honor Nelson Mandela.